The Eastern Conference is home to the top three teams in MLS this year: Atlanta United, the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC. Columbus Crew SC have largely righted the ship, collecting 10 points over their last five games, after losing four of five. While their playoff spot is not written in stone, FiveThirtyEight.com gives them a 98 percent chance to make the playoffs. That leaves two spots to get into the big dance.
The New England Revolution long looked assured of grabbing one of the last two spots, but an eight-game winless run, including a 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night, has put them behind the Union, Montreal Impact and D.C. United in terms of points per game. Throw in road trips to NYCFC, LAFC, Toronto FC, Atlanta and Real Salt Lake, and you can understand why a team with one road win this year is sitting at just 13 percent in FiveThirtyEight's projection. This quote is also pretty telling.
Reporter: “When you look up and see one guy coming at you and there’s nobody back, that’s got to be weird. That doesn’t happen often.”— Jeff Lemieux (@jeff_lemieux) August 26, 2018
Turner: “You’d be surprised ... It’s happened a little more frequently than we’d like this year.” #NERevs
With three wins in a row, Philadelphia is flying. They have shown they can outscore teams (4-3 win at Chicago, 3-1 win at Houston) and have put together consecutive shutouts at home against NYCFC and the Revs. Their just four points behind Columbus with a game in hand. A win next week against United could add some much-needed separation. Their schedule is not easy, and gets congested around the U.S. Open Cup final on Sept. 26, but they put one hand on one of the last two spots on Saturday.
With New England sliding, Toronto's 3-1 win over Montreal at BMO Field on Saturday night was exactly the result they needed. Prior to the match, TFC head coach Greg Vanney was pretty clear about his team's goal over their remaining 10 matches.
“I don't think we need to win 10 games to get ourselves into the playoffs. The minimum number is probably seven. [The margin] is slim; very slim.”
That leaves six wins. Here's their remaining schedule:
- at POR
- vs. LAFC
- vs. LA
- at RBNY
- vs. NE
- vs. VAN
- at DC
- at MTL
- vs. ATL
That's tough. The two away matches at D.C. and Montreal could be the deciders.
Montreal have played the most games of any team fighting to be above the playoff line (27), and have home games against tough opponents (RBNY, NYC) and road games against teams they're battling with for positioning (PHI, DC, NE). Their defense has mostly stabilized, but they still struggle to score. Getting one of Matteo Mancosu, Alejandro Silva or Jeisson Vargas will be crucial.
That leaves D.C. (sorry, Orlando and Chicago). A point on Sunday against the Red Bulls (7 pm ET | FS1 — Full TV & streaming info) would be a bonus after a nine-point week, but D.C.'s nine remaining home matches are really the ones that matter. Eighteen points could get it done and would mean they would take 37 of a possible 51 points at home. That doesn't seem unreasonable, considering what Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta have done over the past couple of weeks. Entering the home stretch, I'd bank on them beating out Montreal and Toronto to join Philly in the Knockout Round.